I’ve long held the belief that I was in the climbing game to see how far I could go, and how fast I could get there. I’ve had goals, dreams, and fantasies about what was possible for me since I first learned what the Yosemite Decimal System was. Over the years I’ve crept my way through the grades, sometimes jumping multiple in a season, and sometimes slogging through multi-year plateaus of injury, burnout, and bouldering. Sure, when things get hard I wonder if this is it, if I’ve peaked at the ripe age of 24. Still, most of the time I think it goes against human nature to accept that at any given moment in time you have already reached your limit, actualized all the potential you’ve got inside you, and are on the decline for the rest of your days. There may always be ebbs and flows, but it’s a rare breed of climber that would gladly confirm that they had absolutely already done the hardest thing they were capable of, and accepted that they were in a permanent ebb. Thus I now tell not the story of Fight Club (since the first rule of Fight Club is that you aren’t supposed to talk about it), but rather the tale of the aftermath.
With all my desires to be in a constant state of flow rather then ebb, so it was that I found myself engrossed in the biggest project of my life. It was a climb that would test me like never before, in terms of mental fortitude through many long gym sessions, and many redpoint attempts in which I struggled to inch my highpoint closer by progress as minute as a single foot adjustment. Along the way I managed to rally a support group around me, both for the heinous training days and the long and emotional belays. After one particularly savage plastic beatdown, a friend dropped a comment about my project that made me laugh at the time, but has come to haunt me in the months since. “Once you send Fight Club you’ll be set adrift,” were he words he used. He was implying that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself in the aftermath, as this process was quickly consuming my entire world. It would be a problem I’d gladly accept, I thought back then, because it would mean I had sent the hardest climb of my life! I had no way of knowing just how relevant that passing sentence would come to be.
Those months of training were filled with a passion I had never known. My oxygen deprived brain would conjure up visions of clipping those chains to get me through cruxes in the weight room and I found pockets of strength I hadn’t known existed. Dozens of weeks of rain and the ending of a relationship left me with nothing but time and pent up energy to spare, alongside a desperate need for purpose and challenge. The project consumed me and all facets of my life. It was the first thing I thought of in the morning, and I would fall asleep rehearsing beta at night. Absolutely everything, EVERYTHING was Fight Club, and it was absolutely electrifying.
I sent on a Wednesday evening after work, just before the cave was totally lost to the darkness of the approaching night. That gave me two days to celebrate before I had to face the gravity of the inevitable question: what came next? There were so many things I wanted to try, and finally I was free to do so. I tried Hellfire, fell off that. I tried Chain Distraction, fell off that. I tried Baby Fight, fell off that. I tried Flatliner, and Van Halem, and Meridian, and fell off all of those. I sent a few moderates, and trained aimlessly in the gym, and it was fun, but through it all I knew deep down that something was missing. It wasn’t burnout, I’d been down that road before. I wanted to climb, I just didn’t know WHAT I wanted to climb. I yearned for a new project with all of my heart, but everywhere I looked, I found no inspiration, no motivation, no excitement. I wasn’t liberated at all, I was lost.
I went to Europe, continuing to chase that feeling that Fight Club had given me. I climbed world class limestone in country after country, and I climbed it well. I sent hard and I celebrated the joy of all that climbing is supposed to be: world class rock, best friends, beautiful places, tufas, kneebars, and sweat soaked glory. I was literally living out the stuff of my dreams, but still I found it lacking. My partners insisted it was okay to not be psyched all of the time. At first I found it reassuring, but after the first few months the sentiment started to lose its comfort. After all this time, all I’d managed to find were dozens of places where the answer was NOT.
I returned from Europe with a mixture of relief and nervous anticipation. I hadn’t found what I was looking for abroad, so maybe it lied somewhere back in the muggy summer sun and slippery (and often wet) crimps of the Pacific Northwest. I half halfheartedly plunged into a few new projects upon my return, but the fickle psyche remained elusive. More time has passed and still things remain somewhat in a standstill, albeit less and less so as time passes. The contagious and indoctrinating psyche for Little Si from the Dawn Patrol crew has brought some relief fromthe chase, but it feels like the answer is lurking just out of sight, teasing me from around the next arete or waiting at the next belay station. Climbing will always be fun, but I know the day will come when I’ll find the next big thing (or more likely it will find me), and my world will once again be set on fire. Until then…
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”